Thursday, February 24, 2005

Chris Matthews & Jack Shafer got it, does Editor & Publisher's William E. Jackson Jr.?

Lloyd e-mails this morning and would like this printed.

Lloyd: On February 13th, I e-mailed you a private e-mail ripping you apart for the thing you wrote about Judy Miller ["Is Judith Miller crowing: "I was proved f**king right." again? and is Okrent now going to examine this issue?"] I don't save copies but if you still have one you can print it now. [Note: I don't. I read and then delete. E-mails that are intended to be shared are printed up and kept until they are posted. That's the site policy.] I just read something at Editor & Publisher this morning and obviously you were making a point that was valid since the thing reads just like your thing. My apologies.

Lloyd doesn't need to apologize. Rant, rave, weigh in [at]. Judith Miller is a charged issue. Today's Editor & Publisher piece is by William E. Jackson Jr. and is entitled "This Time, Judith Miller Gets It Right on Chalabi " (and I disagree that it reads "just like" what was here). From that column:

Recently, Miller was criticized by Daniel Okrent, the Times' public editor (and other media critics, such as myself in a February 6 column here), for her Jan. 30 prediction on MSNBC’s "Hardball" of a political comeback by Chalabi -- with American encouragement -- following the election held that very day. The problem was: This was a "scoop" that, by her own admission, she had not seen fit to submit to the Times.
On the day of the Iraqi election, Miller told Chris Matthews on the air that her "sources" informed her that U.S. officials were, once again, in alliance with former Iraqi exile leader Chalabi, even backing him for a major cabinet post in a new Shiite-dominated government. It seemed improbable, as Chalabi had fallen into disgrace and was often regarded as one of the least popular major politicians in Iraq. But Miller claimed that the Bush Administration was making "belated and sudden outreaches" to Chalabi "to offer him expressions of cooperation and support." One wondered who was her main Iraqi source?
In any case, lo and behold, in the Feb. 13 Times, Dexter Filkins and three other Times reporters weighed in with a dramatic front-page story: "Iraqi Exile Sees His Prospects on Rise Again." They reported that, earlier in the week, "one of the American Embassy's most important diplomats" had visited Chalabi in his Baghdad compound.

The author is using Dexter Filkins' story (as we did, which is why we wrote about this on Feb. 13th) and terms such as "second, even third acts" evaluating Miller's scoop. And comments like "not bad, not bad at all."

Certainly we didn't do that here. Because as we noted then:

This isn't a defense of Miller, but, if she wants to crow she was "proven right," she may be able to convincingly crow that on this one issue.
But the issue regarding her reporting, prior to being reassigned to the UN beat, was never questioning whether Miller could jot down just what the administration or Chalabi (or both) wanted her to -- she's proven herself to be an exemplary stenographer. I'd put her in charge of keeping the minutes at any committee meeting in an instant.
I don't think (and again, I could be wrong) anyone's doubted that she was fed those stories. No one has, to the best of my knowledge, accused of her inventing questionable facts (just of swallowing them). So when Miller speaks or writes, you can be sure that someone fed her. (Overfed?). (No, Frank in Orlando, that's not a weight crack -- Miller's "lithe." Term used intentionally.)

We certainly didn't offer up any suggestion that redemption was at hand for Miller because, as stated then, no one we knew of doubted that she had a pipeline to the administration and Chalabi.

It should also be noted that the E&P piece refers to "sources" while we wondered whether "story" referred to one source. More importantly, the E&P piece doesn't address the questions raised by Chris Matthews on Hardball while Judith Miller was on the show. I'd argue that's the heart of the story and not whether or not Miller has been 'redeamed.'

Furthermore, Jack Shafer raised those issues in his original piece (for Slate -- I can't get the cached version or the original version to load presently) and certainly Matthews' shock (my term) was first noted by Shafer (who as far as I know was the first to address the issue).

Quite honestly, today's the 24th and Dexter Filkins story ran on the 13th, eleven days ago.
Commentary on it now seems a bit after the fact when the comments revolve around Miller (as opposed to the larger issues) and when the piece concludes:

Incredibly, it would appear that while she was on vacation in Florida at the end of January, she filed another article on the United Nations oil-for-food scandal (on Jan. 31, with Julia Preston); conducted the "Hardball" interview; and was on the telephone, or the Internet, to sources in Baghdad and Washington, who gave her the scoop on Chalabi's imminent phoenix-like rise from the ashes in post-election Iraq.
All in the midst of the appeal of her sentence for contempt of court in the Valerie Plame case. Not bad, not bad at all.

Again, for it to be news that Miller had a pipeline to Chalabi and the administration would mean suggesting that Miller just created her WMD stories (which are still faulty). That's not reality.
She was fed them the same way she was fed this story.

This one happened to be true. Law of averages? It really doesn't matter. What does matter are the questions Chris Matthews was asking (as Jack Shafer noted in his piece).

Matthews: You mean Americans? [Italics in the MSNBC transcript.] . . .So where --so we have an election over there. And the same day we're holding an election, the same week, we are plotting which ministries to give to Chalabi, the guy who talked us into the war in the first place. . . . Why are we in the business of deciding or even negotiating cabinet ministries in a foreign government? . . . the idea that the man who won his country back through the vice president's office, Ahmed Chalabi, finds his way now through all this electoral process to end up as oil minister or finance minister, as you say, interior minister -- and I think he has higher ambitions than that -- makes the electoral process come down to the guy who started the war, ends up winning the war, irregardless of how people vote over there.

Instead of attempting to canonize Miller, I'd argue that readers would be better served by noting that issue. Shafer did. The column today doesn't. (And yes, we did note it.)

We did note that Miller could crow "I was proved f**king right" this time -- note, this time. But we didn't suggest she was a liar before, just a sloppy reporter.

Shafer certainly deserves all the credit because he's the one who first raised the issue of what she'd said the night before. (We didn't weigh in until the morning Filkins' report ran, which appeared to confirm Miller's statements.) But again, we didn't attempt to rehabilitate Miller's image in our entry. The issue, as we saw it, went to the questions Matthews raised on Hardball (see quote above) and we wondered why the Times waited fourteen days to print any story on Chalibi. Those were (and are) issues, which is why we suggested if you were bothered by the issues raised by Matthews and why the Times refused to cover the story until that day (the 13th) you contact Daniel Okrent (at least two members did). By the same token, though I wasn't bothered by the e-mails expressing anger (as Lloyd's did), those who felt I was going soft on Miller should be advised that the contact address for William E. Jackson Jr. is There are some serious issues here (ones Matthews and Shafer noted immediately) and the E&P column doesn't address them.

[Note, in the original piece, Jack Shafer's last name was spelled "Shaefer." That was wrong. I'll correct my mistake this evening but don't have time this morning. My apologies for getting his last name wrong. If there are other spellings in this piece, they are wrong. It's "Shafer." But I only caught that a few moments ago while doing a quick read before posting so I wouldn't be surprised if I haven "alternate" -- read "wrong" -- spellings in this entry.]